Celebrating its 30th year in 2022, Leigh folk festival professes to be the largest free event of its kind in the UK. Taking a wide, inclusive view of the genre, it offers music, dance, comedy and poetry, with more than 150 performances across three stages. Some of the particularly intimate evening events come with a small ticket fee, but with so much on offer in the daytime, there is plenty to keep the whole family amused.
Leigh folk festival, Leigh-on-Sea, 23 to 26 June
If the idea of sending your pop-loving teen off to their first big music festival fills you with fear, ease them in with Youth Beatz in Dumfries. Its naff name might lose it some credibility, but with sets from Ella Eyre, Pixie Lott, Jonas Blue and Hrvy across two days, it’s a great way to appease their appetite for independence, finishing at a curfew-friendly 10pm. Under-11s will need to be accompanied by an adult, but older kids are free to enter alone.
Youth Beatz, Dumfries, 25 & 26 June
Lace up your comfiest Chuck Taylors and hit the streets to learn more about its rock’n’roll history, tracing important album cover locations, recording venues and legendary gig spots from the 60s to the present day. Free Tours by Foot’s walks last around two hours and are available all year round; bring snacks and a flask for real budget savvy. If you have some cash, pay-as-you-feel donations are appreciated. freetoursbyfoot.com
If you’re looking to swerve the hefty cost of a big gig ticket, instore appearances can be an affordable way to discover your new favourite act. Rough Trade’s Nottingham branch offers a range of free intimate performances with local artists, while the store’s upcoming London events allow you to get up close and personal with Alfie Templeman, Soccer Mommy and Dry Cleaning. While tickets for shows are often thrown in for the price of an album pre-order, keep an eye open for book launches, signings and Q&As, too, for genuinely free experiences that help you get closer to the music you love. roughtrade.com/gb/events
Ever seen three generations of the same family all twerking out in the street? A celebration of Caribbean culture, west London’s Notting Hill carnival is free in both senses of the word, guaranteed to bring out party jubilance after two years of virtual-only celebration. Get down early either on Sunday (children’s day) or bank holiday Monday to stake out a good spot for the parades, or lose yourself in the crowd to the steel pan bands, sound systems, and food stalls. Over in Yorkshire, you can experience similarly good vibes at Leeds’s own West Indian Carnival.
Notting Hill, London, 27 to 29 August; Potternewton Park, Leeds, 29 August
Providing everything from lo-fi study soundtracks to party-popping house, London-based online radio station NTS (nts.live) is a true music lover’s paradise, with a roster of enviably cool presenters. Tell your mates that it’s BBQ-BYOB, crank up one of its themed “infinite mixtapes” (we’re particular fans of Poolside), and enjoy your very own back garden festival, reaping the social rewards of impeccable taste with none of the curatorial effort. Jenessa Williams
The 2022 edition of London’s family-friendly riverside arts festival Summer by the River – with various free events taking place between London Bridge Pier and City Hall – has a Miami Beach theme. Open-air venue The Scoop will be showing movies at 7pm, including jubilee-appropriate animation The Queen’s Corgi, triple-threat sequel Spider-Man: No Way Home and a singalong screening of Frozen. A pop-up bar offers piña coladas to stressed parents.
londonbridgecity.co.uk, to 2 September
Amid a sea of streamers, the IMDb TV channel never gained much traction, despite offering totally free access to films and TV series (with automated but relatively innocuous ad breaks). Relaunched as Freevee earlier this year by Amazon, it now boasts an expanding slate of original programming – including the dad-friendly crime procedural Bosch: Legacy – but is worth a rummage for its eccentric back catalogue of vintage titles such as the 1983 Michael Caine face-swap oddity The Jigsaw Man.
The community-run Queen’s Park Arena on the south side of Glasgow features a programme of free-but-ticketed cult movies through June, July and the last weekend in August. Chilling thriller The Thing and car-wrecking soul revue The Blues Brothers are among the offerings, with foam mats provided to take the cold edge off the stone steps (maybe still take a blanket). Ticket holders get first dibs on seats but screenings are open to all from 7.15pm.
Queens Park Arena, Glasgow, to 29 August
Talking Pictures TV is an independent goldmine of archive telly and film that began broadcasting in 2015 and rapidly became a word-of‑mouth hit. Despite being run by a tiny team, the channel launched its own on-demand streaming service last December (perhaps inspired by constant tweets from viewers who had just missed their favourite episode of The Champions). Registration is required, and there are pre-screening ad rolls, but TPTV Encore remains a homespun treat.
Preston’s new Mobile Event Tent (MET) is an octangular, multi-use space ingeniously constructed from stretch fabric and modified shipping containers. Now sited in the city’s northern Harris Quarter near Preston markets, the MET is hosting a varied summer programme of events and workshops; June’s family-friendly screenings under canvas include fuzzy sequel Trolls World Tour, stirring fantasy Raya the Last Dragon and retro goblin fave Labyrinth, with free tickets available on Eventbrite.
Mobile Event Tent, Preston, to 29 June
This year’s edition of the long-running Sheffield DocFest kicks off with buzzy music doc Moonage Daydream, an “experiential cinematic odyssey” into the artistic life of David Bowie. You’ll need to cough up for that opening film but the festival also features a full programme of free screenings – plus talks, exhibitions and other events – open to all during the festival run. Sign up for the newsletter at the website for up-to-date 2022 details. Graeme Virtue
Various venues, Sheffield, 23 to 28 June
A comfy chair threatens to eat you alive. Dorothea Tanning was one of the last great artists of the surrealist movement, and this is one of her strangely compelling late works that morph into installation art. She covered a French chair with a leopardskin print, found she had some fabric left and gave it a tail, which turns it from decor into something menacing. One of a fine collection of surrealist classics on view here as part of the free New Arrivals exhibition.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), Edinburgh
A party of Renaissance dudes are out hunting, dressed in bright finery that glows against the darkness of the woodland into which they race. Uccello was fascinated by perspective, the science of depicting space accurately, and in The Hunt in the Forest he gives it an eerie twist as we follow the dogs and hunters towards a vanishing point in the woods. Will they ever come out?
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
It seems incredible that one of Bacon’s most visionary works hangs in a free city art collection rather than being stashed away in the mansion of some rich collector. I saw it when lonely and hungover, and it genuinely made my day. Bacon has depicted a generic pope as an imprisoned fellow soul who stares into your eyes. This is one of the most profound modern artworks in Britain. And it will cost you nothing but your ease of mind.
Aberdeen Art Gallery
This place, in Holborn, central London, is like entering the mind of a brooding Romantic. It is an art installation with coloured light (created by stained glass), narrow passages, a dark crypt and a fine collection of works including Canaletto’s View of Venice. Soane – the 19th-century architect of the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery – created it in the early 19th century and it still preserves its moody poetry of space. Why fork out for the London Dungeon when you can see the Sarcophagus of Seti I for free?
A pirate from a troubled dream stands like an accusing ghost in this painting on view in Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock, where you may start thinking about slave ships even before you see it. Gallagher weaves a magic realist evocation of the Caribbean in this image of a wooden-legged reprobate with hair spreading like seaweed in a Sargasso sea of the past’s tendrils. Just one of a powerful selection of Tate works to see for free.
Don’t pay out for an immersive Van Gogh “experience”. Instead go and see one of his greatest paintings for free. No virtual Van Gogh can replace the heartbreaking reality of the brushstrokes that cost him so much pain and struggle to produce, the furrows in the yellow, the desperate hope and love he put into these flowers. Don’t miss Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Monet and Artemisia Gentileschi in the same collection, all for nothing. Jonathan Jones
National Gallery, London
South-east London will be filled with music, dance and foam in this year’s entirely free, outdoor Greenwich and Docklands international festival. Some of the most anticipated events from renowned international artists include The Sky Is Filled With Thunder, an immersive audio experience about children’s hopes and fears, and House of Oak and Iron, a dance response to colonial history. A 9.7m (32ft) artwork arrives from Burning Man, and the German artist Stephanie Lüning brings billowing chaos with a tidal wave of candy-coloured foam.
Greenwich and Docklands, 26 August to 11 September
Everyone over the age of six is invited up on stage at this celebratory event with poet Simon Mole and musician Gecko. With a soundtrack of high-energy songs, families of all shapes and sizes will be encouraged to play games, write a poem, sing along and have a big picnic. Make sure to BYOB (bring your own biscuits). Part of Norwich theatre’s inclusive family festival, other free activities include a choir, a craft workshop and a mini-ravers’ club.
Norwich Theatre Royal, 27 July
Music, theatre and poetry will take over Sheffield’s Tudor Square for one weekend in July. Organised by the University of Sheffield and Yellow Bus Events, and shining a light on local performers, Together in the Square’s acts are still to be determined but all will be free to watch. This event is part of the city’s celebration of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022, with Sheffield and Rotherham hosting matches throughout the month.
Tudor Square, Sheffield, 26 & 27 July
Eating together opens up intimate avenues of conversation. For Lift festival’s highly participatory Kitchen Conversations, the Nest Collective is encouraging people of colour to talk through in-depth ideas of activism and identity. This show is free, but invite only, and the organisers are particularly keen to include locals from Lewisham, south London. To find out more and ask for a ticket, get in touch via liftfestival.com.
Shipwright, London, 27 June to 1 July
Exploring the roles of religion and culture in a church-turned-art gallery, this 15-minute audio play is written by the Plymouth laureate of words, Laura Horton. Part of Horton’s role is to create new work that’s free for the city. Made of intersecting monologues, The Light Follows Everyone takes inspiration from Plymouth’s vibrant new stained-glass window, created for St Luke’s church by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes.
St Luke’s Church, Plymouth, from 25 June
It’s not hard to find free standup: many open-mic nights don’t charge, largely because they can’t vouch for the quality of their acts. If you want your jokes gratis but laughs guaranteed (with minimum awkwardness), try the Laughięnda, whose bills combine novices with hyped up-and-comers such as Erika Ehler, and seasoned pros including Alun Cochrane. June’s highlights include garlanded Scot Daisy Earl and the raucously entertaining Dan Tiernan, recently nominated for the Chortle’s newcomer award.
The Lion’s Den, Manchester, Thursdays
Daniel Kitson is a comedian – an influential one at that – but you couldn’t call him part of the comedy industry. The 44-year-old doesn’t do podcasts, or panel shows, and he certainly doesn’t do swish streaming giant-funded specials. Instead, the Yorkshire comic has uploaded many of his routines to Bandcamp: some cost a fiver, some £2, but others – such as his 2004 Edinburgh fringe show Dancing and 2005’s Midnight at the Stand – are completely free. Rachel Aroesti